Stiffness (protecting the lumbar spine from high loads)

I’m not going into detail about the research of Prof. Dr. Stuart McGill, but I’ll just briefly present a stiffness-related finding. In the field of breakdance.

One of the key findings of McGill’s research is that in a well performing core, the core muscles can become stiff and protect the lumbar spine whenever needed. I’ve been reading and exercising a lot into this lately. Yes exercising. Going on the floor and do workout. 25 minutes every day, 5 days a week, for 8 consecutive months now. My learning is very entertaining as well as improving my skills in my full-time practice as a Feldenkrais practitioner.

Today I found this neat little animated gif:

Look at the first move. Very stunning spring-like action! I extracted the single frames:

And I was particularly interested in frames 18,19, and 20:

Because this shows the extraordinary talent of such a guy: he comes down to the floor with a flexed spine, rolling to the floor. The spine is not loaded. But then, when he get’s up, he stiffens his torso! Thus protecting his lumbar spine from the high load that would otherwise be an injury mechanism. Very fast from relaxed to very stiff. Beautiful to watch, isn’t it?

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The origin of bone names

Recently I got interested in medical history. The origins of public health, microbiology, Chinese medicine, and mostly why and when people started to do dedicated physical exercise. Also how this spread from Europe to India and back again – our 18 century contortionist gymnastics are now called “modern posture practice” or one form of “yoga”. For this I indulged into the books of Professor Paul Unschuld, Mark Singleton, Günther Loewit, Karel Lewit and some others.

My question of today was: what names did the ancient Chinese give to the bones of the human skeleton? For this I was reading into the book “Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen: Nature, Knowledge, Imagery in an Ancient Chinese Medical Text” by Professor Paul Unschuld.

The story behind this question goes like this: I was teaching the Feldenkrais lesson “AY 13 Buttocks”, one of the important lessons to resolve chronic knee and back pain. During the lesson I gave the clue that during the posterior pelvic tilt the pubic bone (in german: “Schambein” which translates to “shame bone”) moves forwards.  One student, 82 yo male, complained: “this surely can’t be called pubic bone, I’m a man!” Of course everybody was laughing and saying that the bones are called the same, no matter man or women. But I was wondering: “Do all human cultures have the same names for human bones?”

However, I could not find any distinct names, other than the word 骨, which means bone, 厥骨 at best (which means “peg” bone). Then I read into the modern names of anatomy in Chinese and was a fair bit disappointed: every bone’s name is more or less a literal translation from Latin or English to Chinese. Even the pubis bone has the name 耻骨, which literally translates to “disgrace” or “shame” bone. Far from such poetic expressions like “jade gate” and not even close to a “heavenly roots bone”. As one might have expected from the ancient Chinese culture.

Anyways. On my research I came across a study aid from the University of Texas Health Science Center called “Bone name cards”. I immediately found that very useful to aspiring Feldenkrais Masters, both students and practitioners. They very neatly give some background on why we call the bones the way we call them. There’s like 18 of these cards. Here they are:

Click to view online or download骨骼
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My collarbone is different to yours

For new clients I usually start FI by rolling their head and supporting their shoulders. I usually explain everything I do and notice. Recently I started such an FI and commented “you wouldn’t believe how many different variations of clavicles there are”. My new client was very much amazed by this comment, and said “I didn’t know that there are differences at all!”

You might also find this interesting. Therefore I decided to post a couple of images I found on the internet:

This one I found on a bodybuilding forum. The poster did not give any credit, therefore it’s hard to say who drew it.

This is taken from the Journal of Orthopeadic Surgery and Research. Morphological clavicle groups. Mean shapes of the five morphological groups of clavicles. Daruwalla et al. Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research 2010 5:21

This one I found at the open access biomedical image search archive. It says: Examples of clavicle fixation plates. 70.5 percent of variation between measurements is due to differences in width and thickness at the midpoint as well as length, rather than shape. A further 6.7 percent of variation is caused by differences in the lateral depth and angle dimensions and a subsequent 5.0 percent is due to differences in the medial depth and angle dimensions. Finally, a further 4.2 percent of variation is attributed to the change in width and thickness. These four modes attribute to almost 87 percent of clavicular variation.

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Increasing range of motion yes, but

In Feldenkrais we increase the range of motion, but at the same time “organize” movement patterns. For example with AY302 “Releasing the hips by holding the feet” the hip joints become more free, but are at the same time grooved into a pattern that is useful for walking and twisting.

I just came by an interesting study on pubmed. Let me quote to you:

Improvements in hip flexibility do not transfer to mobility in functional movement patterns.

Moreside JM, McGill SM. October 2013

1Department of Kinesiology, Faculty of Health Professions, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; and 2Department of Kinesiology, Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.


The purpose of this study was to analyze the transference of increased passive hip range of motion (ROM) and core endurance to functional movement. Twenty-four healthy young men with limited hip mobility were randomly assigned to 4 intervention groups. [..] Despite the large increases in passive hip ROM, there was no evidence of increased hip ROM used during functional movement testing. Similarly, the only significant change in lumbar motion was a reduction in lumbar rotation during the active hip extension maneuver (p < 0.05). These results indicate that changes in passive ROM or core endurance do not automatically transfer to changes in functional movement patterns. This implies that training and rehabilitation programs may benefit from an additional focus on ‘grooving’ new motor patterns if newfound movement range is to be used.

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Copying from other people

You know that we humans have to learn like .. everything. Apart from the automatic stuff that keeps us alive – heartbeat, bloodflow, breathing, cell growth, bone repair etc.

Now my assumption was that babies have a sort of grasping the gestalt of other people and copy that. Not purely visual, but some sense of direct understanding of other people’s posture, stance, breathing, behavior etc. That’s the babies way to learn their movement patterns to fit into a race, a society, a district, a city, a family. And starts to walk like his dad or mom.

Now I have a couple of clients with recurring back pain, and posture/acture that match the pain, or, to say, produces this pain. After a lesson it’s ok, but the pain and “bad” posture returns within a couple of days.

My newest theory, as of today, is that humans are more connected that we would wish for: it’s not only babies that copy. We adults do that too. Subconsciously. My guess it that it takes only a short glance at another person to start that process. Maybe even from the edge of vision, blink of an eye, peripheral view. Seeing someone walk from behind, the front, or even a steep angle – a fraction of a second is sufficient to copy % of that and install it into the own posture/acture. It happens all automatic and would need conscious effort to block it.

My newest guess is that a client walks out of my practice happily, and starts to “grasp” other’s people posture immediately. Now, with a population of 60-75% back pain (within the last three months) almost nobody displays a pain-free posture. And that’s what we – due to us being connected – copy from each other. A vicious cycle.

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